Improve Your Conference Sessions With These Proven Educational Ideas

According to our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, a majority of associations recognize that education is the primary value their annual conference provides to attendees. And, the quality of educational programming is a major factor in whether an individual chooses to attend a conference. As a result, organizations continue to look for ways to increase the relevance of their programs and the quality of their speakers to maintain and elevate attendee satisfaction. But this alone will only take the learning so far. There is significant opportunity for meeting planners to incorporate proven educational ideas based on adult learning best practices into the structure and format of the conference.

Researchers spend considerable time studying how adults learn and retain information best. Using these findings, professional educators continually experiment with new classroom techniques to increase the amount of active learning and retention. Meanwhile, conferences continue to rely on the same, long-established format: subject matter expert positioned at the front of the room, walking through a PPT deck. The session may include some type of interactive, small-group exercise or discussion, but that’s as far as most sessions go to break from “traditional” format. Because the conference is a primary way that associations deliver education to members, there is significant opportunity to apply the principles of adult learning used by classroom educators into conference breakout rooms.

Here are four guiding principles to consider when thinking about the structure and format of your conference.

Guiding Principle #1: Andragogy

The study of andragogy, or the art and science of adult learning, was developed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1950s. The concept acknowledges that, unlike children, adult learners bring a wealth of professional experience with them into an educational session. According to Knowles, the best way to engage adult learners is to focus on how new information relates to these life experiences and allow them to be active participants in their education. Some examples of andragogy principles put into practice include:

  • Focus on task-oriented instruction versus memorization
  • Put learning activities into the context of real-world tasks, challenges and issues the learner encounters regularly

Guiding Principle #2: More sensory input leads to greater retention

The average adult classroom will contain three types of learners: visual (looking, seeing, watching), auditory (listening, hearing and speaking) and kinesthetic (experiencing, moving doing). Creating environments that incorporate all three learning styles does more than just appeal to a wider audience. It also increases retention for all learners. According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Systems Design, we retain approximately 10% of what we see, 30-40% of what we see and hear, and 90% of what we see, hear and do.

Guiding Principle #3: More content is not necessarily better

As meeting planners, we want to deliver as much value as possible for our attendees in return for the time and expense they invest in our conference. Delivering more content, however, can actually be detrimental to the overall experience. One of the greatest challenges attendees face when attending a high-quality, jam-packed conference is how to battle the inevitable learning fatigue that comes from trying to process a lot of information in a short period of time, while spending a majority of that time in a physically passive state (sitting and listening).

Guiding Principle #4: The “Forgetting Curve”

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th Century German psychologist, conducted a series of memory experiments that uncovered some alarming statistics about learning retention. On average, we forget up to 90% of what we’ve learned within the first month. Repetition and reinforcement after the initial learning event does help to decrease this, to an extent. Retention is also affected by how meaningful the information is. The more a learner can connect new information with existing knowledge, the greater retention is over time.

Putting these principles into practice

Understanding how adults learn and retain information is just the first step in creating a more effective learning environment. The second (and perhaps most challenging) task for meeting planners is how to use this information to re-think the structure of your conference. Here are a few educational ideas to try at your next event.

1. Create a layered approach to learning

Consider decreasing the number of topics featured within your conference schedule, and instead, feature multiple sessions that address a singular topic in a variety of ways. For instance, you may introduce a broader topic or concept in a standard, classroom-style session. Then, dive deeper into specific aspects of that topic in subsequent sessions, each featuring more active learning applications. So if, for example, you featured a general session on strategic planning, subsequent sessions may include:

  • A hands-on learning task where attendees build the framework for their own strategic plans, which they can then bring back to the office and use
  • A makerspace-type session where attendees gather together to tackle a specific organizational challenge or experiment with solutions, under the guidance of a facilitator
  • A hollow-square session, where attendees have the opportunity to pose questions to and learn from each other

2. Interject micro-learning moments

Zoos and museums are two examples of organizations that know how to create great on-site micro-learning moments. While walking from one area to another, you may find a staff member or volunteer standing next to a small cart or table, providing a hands-on opportunity to touch, feel or see one aspect of a larger display. They’ve figured out that learning can truly take place anywhere—including outside the exhibit. Similarly, think about how you might be able to interject short (two to five-minute), pop-up, multi-media learning sessions throughout the venue: in the hallway or stairwell during breaks, in a lounge area where many attendees are often taking a moment to sit and check email, on the sidewalk outside of the conference center. These can be fun, interactive, almost “freestyle” or “street-style” opportunities.

3. Add more thinking and moving time

Instead of packing every possible hour with expert-led educational sessions, think about ways to schedule more “whitespace” into your conference—blocks of time designed to make learning more effective and productive. Consider scheduling “study” time designed to absorb and use what has been learned. Provide workbooks to help structure notes from the entire day into ideas and action plans that participants can apply as soon as they get back to the office. Have multiple attendees from the same organization? This can become a valuable team collaboration session (which can be difficult to find time for when everyone returns to the office).

Look for ways to get people moving more at the conference. Consider removing the chairs from a breakout session to keep the blood flowing. Schedule a 10-minute networking “walkabout” before your mid-morning and mid-afternoon sessions. Turn a learning lab into a scavenger hunt. Think about including five minutes of breathing and stretching exercises throughout the day.

4. Provide resources for attendees to reinforce learning after the conference

Learning doesn’t have to end when the conference does. Consider creating value-added opportunities for attendees to continue the learning after the conference throughout the year. Use both structured (instructor-led) and unstructured (attendee collaboration) virtual events to foster continued discussion. Provide ongoing access to conference and supplemental materials through an online conference library.

By following these educational ideas for conference sessions, your conference attendees will be more engaged and retain more information, making your conference and its education much more valuable.

Turn Your Training Seminars into an Event

Finding new ideas to improve your training seminars can be a challenge. Developing, promoting and facilitating instructor takes a significant amount of planning, leaving little time for brainstorming the little extras that make the sessions so memorable. This topic came up around the office the other day as I was talking with a co-worker that specializes in conferences. We grabbed the video camera and sat down for a quick chat about some ideas program coordinators can borrow from their event planner colleagues.

We hope our conversation sparks some new ideas that help make your next training seminar an event to remember!

Video Transcript

Dan: So as an association, you know the difficulties in putting together your workshops and seminars. There’s a lot of things that go into planning it; how do you make it more exciting? I had a chance to meet with Matt Harpold here at Omnipress and talk about how meeting planners could turn that workshop into something more of an event, something really exciting!

Dan: You work with a lot of AMCs, a lot of meeting planners. They’re used to putting together big events, organizing hundreds or thousands of people coming together. What are some of the things that the meeting planners think about that could pertain to some of the program coordinator?

Matt: The piece that could be leveraged more is the learning that you can make on the connections side. Learning from your peers.

Dan: Have a social hour?

Matt: Have a social hour, happy hour, or even just go and get dinner.

Dan: Go and get together with some friends and colleagues and learn about some things on an informal basis about the industry and some things that they’re dealing with.

Or even take advantage of, let’s say you’re in Pittsburg, for example, and there’s something in the industry that your group is coming together on, do a field trip or something of that nature.

Matt: You learn more about the area, the culture that’s around those spots and really learn things that are outside of that classroom.

Dan: An example that I was just thinking about now is maybe you association is focused on food or food safety or restaurants, or something of that nature, so you may get together to raise money for food pantries in the local area, or you may get together and clean up a park.

Matt: Kind of making it more of an event rather than just having the “I’m hear just to learn”. Sometimes you can learn things outside of a classroom.

Dan: Thanks Matt, great conversation! Hope you have a few take aways you can implement with your next workshop or seminar. And if you do, please leave us a comment so other people can see what’s going on and really benefit from you ideas, as well. Thanks for your time!

Optimize Your Courses for Millennials’ Unique Learning Style

 

Not too long ago, Millennials were the generation to plan for, the group of professionals who would someday be starting their careers and joining associations. Things have changed, however, as Millennials now make up a significant—and growing—portion of the workforce. As this generation looks to advance their careers, associations that offer continuing education opportunities tailored to meet their needs will be the resources that Millennials turn to.

It’s not enough to simply welcome this new generation into your existing courses. Technology has helped Millennials develop a different learning style than previous generations, and as a result, they expect your continuing education courses to meet these unique needs. Courses that blend traditional resources like workbooks and study guides with flipped classrooms, bite-sized learning and social media will be more likely to appeal to Millennials.

Flipped Classrooms

In the traditional classroom setting, an instructor introduces a concept during an in-person lecture. Students are then expected to complete assignments on their own to further their learning.

A flipped classroom reverses this approach. Students use study materials such as textbooks or online course content to learn new concepts ahead of time. Classroom time can then be used to discuss the material and allow students to participate in activities that reinforce those concepts. This method allows for more collaboration between students, and more individualized instruction for students who have questions about the material.

Blended Learning

Online training materials—particularly those accessible via a mobile device—offer students the convenience and flexibility to access materials any time they please. But this does not mean they are interested in forgoing printed materials completely. Instead, digital materials can be an effective supplement to traditional training materials.

As our Millennials and Training report shows, 59% of Millennials prefer printed materials when learning new concepts. Offering training materials in both print and online formats is the best way to accommodate Millennials’ diverse learning styles, and is key to helping them succeed in your courses.

Bite-sized Learning

Millennials want access to content when and where they prefer, and this applies to your educational content, as well. Structuring lessons into bite-sized or micro-learning segments can appeal to their shorter attention spans and make it easier to fit learning into their busy schedules.

Utilize short videos, small chapter sections and other more succinct lessons. Resource libraries are also good ways to allow learners to return to the material whenever they need to. The goal is to provide material in a convenient format that offers the flexibility of on-the-go access.

Collaboration

Social sharing and engagement should play a role in your continuing education courses, in-person and online. This generation thrives on networking and collaboration, so encouraging your learners to interact with their peers is an effective way for them to deepen their understanding of a topic.

Online collaborative learning may also be an option for your training courses. This allows learners to work together even when they may be geographically dispersed, creating an interactive online learning community.

Social Proof

Millennials often rely on the recommendations of their peers to help them make decisions. Not only do they consume these testimonials, but they also like to share their opinions with others. This phenomenon of peer recommendations is called social proof.

Offer Millennial learners the option to help spread the word about your training courses online through guest blogs, Facebook events and online reviews. They’ll appreciate the ability to share their opinion, and you may see an increase in enrollment as a result.

Gamification

Incorporating game-like features into your learning materials, both inside the classroom and out, can increase learners’ engagement. Consider adding incentives, rewards or leaderboards to online training materials and try to incorporate competitive aspects to in-class scenarios and challenges to “gamify” their education.

Credentialing

If your course provides learners with a certificate or something similar to recognize course completion, consider utilizing technology to better apply this to your digital natives. Provide Millennials with a digital credential, or online badge, they can display on social media sites like LinkedIn.

Millennials will be able to show off their industry-specific skill set and accomplishments while your organization benefits from word-of-mouth advertising within their networks.

Fine-Tune a Training Program for Your New Generation’s Learning Style

It’s important to recognize how Millennials’ unique learning style differs from those of previous generations. Associations that are able to structure their training courses to include blended learning, bite-sized materials and offer engaging, collaborative approaches will become the resources Millennials turn to as their careers’ progress.

Instructor-Led Training: Is It Still the Delivery Method of Choice for Continuing Education?

As technology continues to expand into more areas of our lives, some in the continuing education field have predicted the move from in-person, instructor-led training to an on-demand, digital approach. As we talk with customers and other CE professionals about the future of the field, however, we realized something: while the trend has been predicted for years, we’ve seen very little abandonment of instructor-led training.

Rather than a complete switch from instructor-led training (ILT) to digital learning, continuing education courses often include both in-classroom and digital training. Trainers and educators are now offering more options for learners to consume their educational materials how, when and where they please.

We turned to ATD’s State of the Industry Report, as well as our very own State of the Continuing Education Industry Report, for the data to support these conclusions.

Instructor-Led Training Still Leads the Way

Although there has been a slight decline in instructor-led training in recent years, it’s not declining nearly as fast as some association professionals had anticipated. From 2012 to 2015, the percentage of instructor-led training courses declined by 7%. That’s only a 1.75% decline on average each year. At this rate, ILT will still be the most popular way for organizations to deliver training for approximately another decade (2026).

Dan Loomis, Omnipress Director of Training and Publications, said, “With the popularity of digital and mobile formats emerging in the continuing education industry, I was surprised to see that instructor-led training isn’t declining as fast as some believed it would. It’s pretty clear that ILT is still an essential part of the learning process, and will be for years.”

A Workforce of Traditional Learners

Most of today’s workforce was educated in a classroom with an instructor and printed materials. Even those entering the workforce more recently, like Millennials and Gen Z, did a majority of their learning in the classroom, despite having digital materials and the internet at their ready.

As one Millennial told us during our Millennials & Print study:

“I think that, when it comes to educational materials, I will always favor print over digital. While we (Millennials) are the first generation to ‘grow up’ with technology, the technology we grew up with is completely different than it is today and it was used in completely different ways. I had access to a computer both at home and school, but in elementary school it was used to learn to type. In middle school it was used to learn Word and Excel. In high school, it was used for research and writing papers. I wasn’t reading textbooks online, I wasn’t taking class notes on a laptop. The first iPad was introduced in my sophomore year of college and I didn’t purchase one until I graduated. While it is possible to highlight and markup materials digitally on an iPad, it was never part of my educational life—I didn’t learn to learn on one.”

-Emily Wiseman; Director of Administration at Association Management Partners & Executive Directors, Inc.

So, as more Millennials join your organization and attend continuing education courses, many still expect instructor-led courses rather an online-only environment.

Flipping the Classroom to Use In-Person Learning Time Efficiently

It’s clear that instructor-led training remains a significant component of the continuing education experience, albeit not the only part. Since ILT is so valuable, your organization should focus on how you’re using classroom time to make the most of it. One way you can capitalize on in-person training is through the “flipped classroom” method.

“Flipping the classroom” is a popular idea often used in higher education. The concept essentially flips the “traditional” method of teaching in order to better use the students’ classroom time and enhance their understanding of the material.

In the traditional teaching model, an instructor will introduce a new concept in class, typically through an in-person lecture. The students will then take time outside of class to complete activities to reinforce the new ideas on their own.

In a flipped classroom, students take time to learn a new concept outside of the classroom; this can be done through textbook reading, a recorded lecture or many other forms. Then, when students meet in class with an instructor, their time is devoted to interactive group learning. This way, instructors can work one-on-one with learners to further explain course concepts, answer questions and help students solve problems in groups or to apply the new information to real-world situations.

Flipping the classroom combines instructor-led training and digital course materials to deepen your learner’s understanding, help them improve retention, and use class time efficiently.

While it’s safe to say that learners expect more options for how they receive continuing educational materials, it’s also clear that instructor-led training is still a major part of the training experience. Help bridge the gap between generations of learners by offering multiple ways to access materials and effectively use time spent in the classroom.

Note: This is an update of an earlier article that was published in April 2016.

This is One of the Principles of Teaching Adults You Must Keep in Mind

 

Anyone that has stood in front of a classroom knows that there is a big difference between teaching adults and teaching children. Aside from a lack of note passing and paper airplane throwing, adult learners come into your training courses with a specific goal in mind; after all, something motivated them to enroll in your course.

Recognizing your learners’ goals is such an important part of adult education that Malcolm Knowles—the leading voice in the study of adult learning—notes this as the first of his five principles of teaching adults. And it makes sense: By harnessing this embedded desire to achieve, you can steer your students’ motivation and lead them to a positive learning experience.

That means part of your role when designing a course is to make sure learners see exactly how the course can help them achieve their goals and then provide a framework that allows them to achieve them.

Show your learners what they can expect

When starting a new course, it is important that learners see how the in-class lessons will help them reach their goals. Make sure it’s clear from the onset what they can expect to achieve by completing your training course. Once you know their motivations, you can design your course to preview the outcomes they can expect to see once they complete it.

Right off the bat, your course should demonstrate to your adult learners how the content will be relevant and applicable to their lives and careers. Talking about goals and how your course can help learners reach them creates buy-in and can improve engagement.

Include course elements that fit your learners’ goals

When you think through the goals and motivations of your adult learners, you can use the principles of teaching adults to design a course that helps them learn and grow in their desired ways. It’s also important to think about how your learners’ will use this knowledge after completing your course. What kinds of outcomes do you want to see in your graduates?

This will help you include different course elements that more appropriately engage your learners and help them meet their goals. Depending on how the training concepts will be used, some course aspects will be more relevant than others.

For example, if a learner is taking a certification course in food safety and needs to know the rules and regulations surrounding that topic, ending the course with a quiz is an important step to test their knowledge and ensure they understand the material.

However, for a learner who wants to grow as a professional in a leadership course, a multiple choice test will probably not benefit them much. Instead, your leadership class could participate in a role-playing scenario in which they put their new-found leadership skills to the test.

Keeping your adult learner’s motivations in mind is one of the most important principles of teaching adults. If you structure the elements of your course with this principle in mind, you’ll be helping learners achieve their goals and stay motivated to successfully complete the course.

How To Find New Ideas That Will Improve Classroom Learning

Looking to other associations for inspiration is a common way our customers find solutions to their challenges. And for good reason. Many of the training-related issues associations face are common across member-based organizations. But, good ideas can come from anywhere and associations may be able to find new inspiration by expanding their horizons. To find truly innovative ideas, it’s worth looking outside of your industry, as well. The airline industry provides a great example of finding inspiration in other places.

Finding Inspiration in Unusual Places

A number of years ago, Southwest Airlines set a goal to become the industry leader in on-time takeoffs. They knew that relying on standard industry procedures wouldn’t be enough to reach this high bar. Instead, Southwest decided to incorporate efficiencies from other industries that excelled in managing tight schedules. They found the inspiration they were looking for in NASCAR. The partnership resulted in new procedures the airline industry had never seen before. By looking at the underlying skills needed to improve a process, rather than focusing on how their peers manage the task, Southwest was able to solve their problem.

When we take this lesson and apply it to associations, a whole new world of potential sources of inspiration appear.

Finding Sources of Inspiration to Improve Classroom Learning

Instructor-led training is essential to the mission of the organizations we work with. Customers are always interested in learning what other associations are doing in this area and the results they are experiencing. With the example of Southwest in mind, where might we look for new ideas and leadership on this topic? No industry has a deeper history innovating the classroom experience than the education industry. The initiatives coming from higher education can provide associations with new ideas that will improve classroom learning.

One Higher Ed Initiative Worth Considering: Flipping the Classroom

“Flipping the Classroom” is a popular idea that is finding traction across the country’s college campuses. This concept takes what we consider to be the “traditional” teaching model and inverts it. For example, in the traditional teaching model, a new concept is introduced using an in-person, instructor-led lecture. The student then takes time outside of the classroom to complete activities (such as a workbook exercise) to reinforce the learning.

Flipping the classroom

In a flipped classroom, the student is introduced to the new concept by watching a pre-recorded lecture on her own. Classroom time is then devoted to interactive group learning. Instructors can work individually with learners to cover concepts that need further explanation, and students can problem solve in groups or apply the lecture concepts to real-world scenarios. These activities deepen the student’s understanding and increase retention.

Flipping the classroom is just one example of a Higher Education initiative that could improve classroom learning for associations. Education, of course, isn’t the only industry with innovation to spare. When you think about the challenges that face your industry and association, which groups can you identify that excel in that area? How can you begin the conversation to work together?

Focus on These 12 Traits for Effective Adult Learning

 

Instructing adults in the classroom is different from when they were children. Malcolm Knowles defined the unique needs of teaching adult students with his theory “Andragogy.” Take a look at the factors that make teaching adults different than children and how you can use this information to create effective adult learning scenarios in your next course.

Profile of an Adult Learner

 

From the infographic

Profile of an Adult Learner 

Put adult learning theory to work in your next course! Create an effective learning environment by understanding Malcolm Knowles’ concept of Andragogy and the unique needs of teaching adults.

Andragogy

an·dra·go·gy noun: andragogy; plural noun: andragogies

the method and practice of teaching adult learners; adult education.

Profile of Adult Learner

Adults Bring

  • Prior experience and knowledge to the classroom
  • Preferences and prejudices that may need to be overcome

Adults Enjoy

  • Solving problems
  • Active learning
  • Small group exercises
  • Moving around the room

Adults Expect To

  • Use the concepts they learn immediately
  • Be respected in the classroom

Adults Need To

  • Know why a concept is important
  • Feel like an active part of the learning process
  • Learn at their own speed
  • Receive feedback and constructive criticism

Strategies for Effective Adult Learning

Action Learning

Allow participants to work in small groups on a real project. Diversity of the group is critical to the learning process.

Experiential Learning

Give attendees the opportunity to set goals, plan and turn decisions into action. Follow up with time to review and reflect on the outcomes.

Project Based Learning

Create real-life scenarios for learners to solve that relate to their actual work environment. Promote teamwork by encouraging students to work in groups.

Self-Directed Learning

Encourage students to integrate learning into their daily routine. Teach learners to determine their own learning needs and identify positive outcomes.

Omnipress has the tools, tips and best practices to help you deliver effective educational sessions. Let’s talk about creating educational materials tailor-made for your adult learners. Start the conversation today! justask@omnipress.com

References

http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/andragogy.html